If Johnson’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers is legal, why is he afraid to defend it in court?

This government’s despicable assault on asylum seekers and refugees – and the distress caused for our union’s members in the Home Office – is seemingly endless. From pushbacks in the Channel to shipping people off to Rwanda, the cruelty is unimaginable, but as so often is the case with this Tory government and those that came before it, the cruelty is the point. In the face of this inhumanity, I am incredibly proud that my union, PCS, and others are taking a stand.

Clearly this is an annoyance to a cynically vote-seeking prime minister and his allies, as is evident from the front page of today’s Daily Mail, which warns of the plan being threatened by “liberal lawyers”. But the plan is dreadful, and there are reasons aplenty to fight it.

El mes pasado, the Home Office climbed down from its intention to operate a pushback policy in the Channel. This was in response to a judicial review application made by PCS and Care4Calais, alongside other applications from two other refugee groups, Freedom from Torture and Channel Rescue. We were compelled to get involved because the pushback policy posed a considerable threat to the lives of refugees and the inhumane treatment they would be subjected to. It also carried risks to our members’ safety and wellbeing, exposing them as it did to risk of death, injury, trauma and prosecution if something went disastrously wrong.

We have been thoroughly vindicated by the outcome. The home secretary was forced into a humiliating retreat: la Oficina en casa has withdrawn the policy in its entirety and has agreed to pay all our costs. We were all thrilled with this result, but the defeat of the pushback policy does not signal the end of the government’s assault on refugees, or the consequences for our members tasked with implementing these policies.

With the announcement of the policy to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda, coupled with the nationality and borders bill recently becoming law, the government has made it perfectly clear that it intends to create an even more hostile working environment for refugees and our members. Our members are up in arms about the appalling Rwanda plans, and rightly so.

This is a workforce that sees the terrible effects of these policies on desperate people, and one that has long been used as a political football as successive governments have lurched from one disaster on asylum and immigration policy to another. Our members are always the ones that have to deal with the disastrous consequences and are left to pick up the pieces. los Windrush scandal was a case in point. As we did in the pushback case, this union intends to do all it can to stop our diligent public servants being placed in this unjust position once more.

We have again joined forces with Care4Calais, alongside Detention Action, to begin legal proceedings. We have also served a pre-action letter on the home secretary seeking the disclosure and publication of the criteria for determining the suitability of asylum seekers for removal to Rwanda. We are acting swiftly to prevent illegal deportations and protect both our members and those directly affected.

All the signs of a reckless, inhumano, ill-considered policy are there. Our negotiators in the Home Office have requested policy and operational documents – but none have been forthcoming. We were forced to follow a similar process in the pushback case where those documents that were provided were heavily redacted. It can only be concluded that either the Rwanda policy announcements are built on sand and no policy framework exists to facilitate it, or they have something to hide. If it is the former, this pathetic government is using the plight of oppressed people to score cheap political points; if it is the latter, we should all be deeply troubled.

It is only right that the legality of what is being proposed is subject to scrutiny – that is what the apparatus of legal scrutiny is for – and we have made it clear to the government that they are required to exercise its discretionary powers transparently. In another important step, we have been given an assurance by the home secretary that no action will be taken to remove any individual refugee to Rwanda before we receive a response to our letter. We will seek to extend that assurance until the legality of the proposals has been tested.

The government backed down on the eve of the trial on the pushback policy because it feared it was going to lose – again. In the last five years we have won four judicial reviews against the government, and on each occasion, the government has been found to have been in breach of the law. We are confident that, had it seen the inside of a courtroom, the pushback case would have made it five.

We are treating the government’s claims that the Rwanda policy is legal with a significant degree of scepticism. We believe the government’s record completely justifies that scepticism. We have already had one stunning victory, but for the sake of our members and the desperate people coming to the UK, and the rule of law, we will not stop there.

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